What is to Be Done

Back in the 1960’s Economist and Historian, Murray N. Rothbard worked as a reviewer for the William Volker Fund, a conservative and libertarian organization that gave grants to academics for the furtherance of conservative and free market ideas. His job, primarily, was to read and review articles, periodicals and books on political science and economics. He would then write reviews of these publications. David Gordon, senior fellow at the Mises Institute and editor of the Mises Review, among other scholarly works, authored a book titled, “Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard” in which he collected and published the private memos and correspondences that Murray Rothbard had written to other members of the Volker Fund. The reader gets to see an “off-the-cuff” look at Rothbard in a more candid light.

The first chapter is titled, “Setting the Stage” and subtitled, “Rothbard’s Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund, “What is to Be Done?”” where Rothbard writes to F.A. Harper and George Resch about the message of libertarianism and free markets dying off. It lays out a possible strategy to revise and grow libertarian and individualistic thought in society.

The article seems extraordinarily prophetic, in light of the recent electoral events, which is echoed by the similar malaise that seems to be spreading among freedom lovers today. Frustration appears to be permeating in such places as a petition on the White House website to secede from the union. A wide spread notion that the electoral process is not working. A general fear from the minority of an impending tyranny of the majority.

Although this memo was written in 1961, it does reveal the same concerns and are relevant in today’s pro-statist American society. Here, we see Murray Rothbard lay out the best way to bring a resurgence of free market and libertarian thought by maintaining and growing a certain “hard core” of thinkers and scholars, taking his cue from the Leninists. This uncompromising hard core would be the center and strength from which the movement would grow. Rothbard eludes to the Fabian approach by infiltration and incrementation.

He writes,

This way the hard core, not only works to advance the total system but all steps toward that system. In this way, we achieve “unity of theory and practice”, we spurn the pitfalls of base opportunism…”

This hard core’s responsibility is to maintain the integrity of the theory and not fall by the wayside as have many who have degraded the conservative theory through opportunism. This opportunism comes in many varieties. Some compromise there principles through money and privilege, while others through shear peer pressure. The avoidance of being marginalized and left outside the “mainstream” and held back from advancement academically. Tenure and rank is all important in academic circles. Murray Rothbard stresses the importances of winning the day through academics. It is the scholars of today who play the role of “court philosopher” and profligate the State’s agenda onto the masses. These are the leaders in scholastic writing, the teachers and professors at our major universities, journalists and editors of mainstream news outlets. The battle is forever lost if the opinions of the State’s “fifth column” cannot be changed in the direction of individualism and free markets. What Rothbard calls the “laissez faire” political theory. 

Any attempt to win political office and effectually change the direction of the country is a complete waste of time without first holding sway over the intellectuals. The American public will not buy into any paradigm shift in political thought without them. The spectrum of what topics and issues are discussed must be broadened to include those who might seem out-of-the-box to the mainstream. It is these intellectuals who define what the issues will be and how broad the discussion will be about them.

This is witnessed when a campaign changes from the primary to the general phase. During the primary elections each candidate attempts to best appeal to his base. After securing the base of voters, the candidates contend for the middle. It’s this middle that are so heavily influenced by the mass media and what is taught in the schools and universities. It is paramount to change the hearts and minds of the intellectuals who end up framing the political discussion. If not, then out-of-the-box thinkers, such as Ron Paul or Gary Johnson, become marginalized and those issues will never be discussed in a positive way during an election. 

Murray Rothbard continues,

“…we must, first and foremost, nourish and increase the hard core; we must, then, try to diffuse and advance principles and action as far as possible in the direction of hardcore doctrines. To abandon the hard core is liquidationist; to abandon all hardcore leverage upon others is to remain sterile and ineffective. We must combine the two elements; we must, in short, nourish and develop a hard core, which will then permeate and exert leverage upon others.”

In order to nourish this hard core of the message, an open center must be established where these members may go and grow in strength and number. In 1961, these centers were very limited. Unknown to Rothbard at the time, these “open centers” of libertarian thought would come into existence in the form of the CATO Institute and the Mises Institute, both of which Rothbard was one of the founders. It is with these centers that scholars and those of the “hard core” can meet and discuss the issues and strategy to advance the ideas of freedom and individualism into the academic field. How influential these centers are in infiltrating and winning the hearts and minds of fellow academics in the universities is what differentiates a think tank or political action group from a true center to develop and grow the cadre of hard core scholars to further the cause. As a warning, when the institution, organizes it’s efforts to attract funding more than to disseminate sound policy, then the latter is harmed for want of the former. The money attains prominence and the institution resembles more of a racket than any noble institution of sound policy.

We see some of Rothbard’s ideas already coming to pass. His emphasis on educating through scholarly programs, both on and off campuses, was key to change. The literature would then reflect this change and, in turn, educate the rest of society on sound libertarian and free market doctrine. In 1961 it would have been unheard of to petition a sitting president on the issue of secession. The battle is long and not going to be decided by one or two elections. Or even by any election. Politicians are not the class of people anyone should trust with the destiny of a people or their culture. It must come from the electorate themselves. The elected official is merely a reflection of the constituency that put him or her in office. Reliance on law or constitutionality is certainly not enough. Politicians view both as obstacles and with each chicane, are helped by a willing and biased activist judge. An election is not the avenue to effect change. An election is simply a sampling of the electorate at any given time. Any move towards freedom and free markets must be through education and emphasis on the libertarian ideals that our founders passed on to us.


One thought on “What is to Be Done

  1. Pingback: What is to Be Done | The Libertarian Liquidationist

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